KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — John Kelly was all smiles after his pro-day workout at Tennessee on Monday.
“That was the easy part,” said Kelly, whose NFL draft stock is on the rise after he clocked a sub-4.6-second time in the 40-yard dash. “Everything went pretty well. I was able to show my quickness in the running back drills and my hands.”
Kelly is one of a handful of Tennessee players who figure to get selected in the NFL draft (April 26-28), among them defensive back Rashaan Gaulden, tight end Ethan Wolf, kick returner Evan Berry, punter Trevor Daniel and cornerbacks Justin Martin and Emmanuel Moseley.
Kelly has been visiting NFL teams throughout the evaluation process, and he spoke with SEC Country on Wednesday night after one such meeting with an AFC contender.
Fact is, when NFL teams turned on the film to evaluate Alvin Kamara last season, they also got some glimpses of No. 4 — Kelly.
The start of the 2017 season produced more Kelly highlights, as for half the season he and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley were the only Power 5 players to lead their respective teams in rushing and receiving.
“A lot of teams compare me to AK [Kamara], as far as the things we can do in an offense,” Kelly said. “I definitely felt I was able to develop a lot in this offense at Tennessee, being able to catch the ball more than maybe some other backs.
“Now, in the NFL, backs have to catch the ball more and provide an easy target for the quarterbacks.”
Kelly actually averaged more yards per carry than Kamara in 2016 (6.4 to 5.8), while Kamara was used more often in the pass game and had a higher average yards per catch (9.8 to 8.5).
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said in an offseason teleconference that he had questions about Kelly’s consistency, citing the differences between the first and second halves of last season.
“You put the Florida tape on and you go, ‘Wow, that was a good football game,’ ” Mayock said. “You see contact balance, a burst acceleration. His last three games, I don’t know if it was him, his offensive line or a combination, but they just looked different. You hate to knock a kid when the whole team is struggling like it was at the end of the season. But they looked different at the end of the year.”
Kelly averaged 5.6 yards per carry the first four games of the season, including his season-high 141-yard rushing performance against the Gators.
But Kelly averaged 2.6 yards per carry in the four games after returning from a one-game suspension that forced him to miss the Kentucky game on Oct. 28.
“I think there were a number of things that went into it,” Kelly said. “Once we thinned out a bit with injuries, things got kind of steep, let’s just say that.”
Kelly is a safe bet to make an NFL team, and depending on how his individual interviews go, it’s realistic to think he could be selected in the third round.
In addition to playing tailback, Kelly is a potential impact player on special teams, and perhaps even on defense.
“I can play DB any time,” Kelly said. “You throw me out there, and I can lock them up. I’m ready to get back to work, just training and waiting for my name to be called.”
Just got call from my scout at @Vol_Football pro day today. All 32 teams there, including TEN and OAK GMs, DB coaches from DEN, NYG
3 non-combine invites now on NFL radar: CB Emmanuel Moseley (4.38 40), LB Colton Jumper, TE Ethan Wolf
OL Khalil McKenzie was worked out at OG https://t.co/01yxTTZt4C
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) March 19, 2018
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